Who Were They?

Lost and forgotten photos from the past

Son of a famous yodeler

Looking through my photos for a theater themed photograph, I came across this one, a mystery cabinet card labeled J. K. Emmet. The slightest amount of research identified J. K. Emmet as a popular vaudevillian actor from the 1890s through the 1910s, with a more famous father Fritz and a less famous son J. K. Jr. How could I pass this up? Fritz Emmet was a famous yodeler, cited in numerous magazine articles for his songs and acting in the 1890s. J. K. was also well known, but apparently not quite as well as Fritz, as he was noted in 1912 to have sung some of his father’s yodeling songs during a one-act show entitled A South Dakota Divorce. The few references to J. K. Jr really only are that his father was more famous than he.

The photograph itself is quite interesting, to say the least. J. K. Emmet appears to be wearing wooden shoes and leather (?) gaiters of some type, a puffed sleeve blouse and possibly even bib overalls, all while strumming the guitar and looking fondly upon the young child in the center of the photo. Yes, I did compare the profile of the man to two known photos of J. K. Emmet and by the nose, it’s him. The set they are on is quite cluttered and messy, with a picnic basket, hanging coats in the background and some sort of odd mess to the left. Could this be depicting the stage of their show, whatever it may have been? Surely it was Dutch themed, which would explain the shoes, but beyond that, I have no clue what is going on there. However, it was popular at the time to stage a vignette from a current musical show and sell the photographs, much like modern trading cards. This particular card is fairly rough, and at some point had been glued into something, maybe a photo album or frame, as there is a large splotch on the back. No photographer was named. The photo is on loan from my friend Pauline and it was found among numerous other unidentified family photographs from the 19th century. Someone in her family history liked vaudeville actor J. K. Emmet, apparently.

UPDATE: Be sure to visit the comments where a site reader has posted a youtube recording of Emmet’s Cuckoo song from A South Dakota Divorce. Fabulous!!

How I would love to attend a musicale that featured yodeling! For more theater themed photos and probably some interesting stories, click the link below to Sepia Saturday!

For the love of the theater, click it!

20 thoughts on “J. K. Emmet, Vaudevillian actor

  1. Wendy says:

    Poor J.K., it must’ve been hard following in the footsteps of a yodeling father.


  2. postcardy says:

    I did some searching and found Emmet’s Cuckoo Song (the song in South Dakota Divorce) on YouTube. I couldn’t make out the words–the yodeling is at the end of the song.


  3. The leather gators might actually be leather spats..worn in tall grass to prevent snake bites..yeeww


  4. Little Nell says:

    The card depicts an interesting scene. The child looks as though she’s trying to concentrate very hard!


  5. Joy says:

    Has he told her to look angelic? Not much yodelling in the charts nowadays:-)


  6. Bob Scotney says:

    The last yodeller I remember in the UK charts was Frank Ifield in the 1960s.
    Interesting card, clogs and all. Better yodelling than clog dancing I think.


  7. Well, that was some yodeling. Most of the yodeling I’ve heard was in country music songs. I’m sure I never heard one woven into a play.


  8. Linda says:

    I am very fond of vaudeville history, a great find, and thanks for that snippet of J.K. Emmet doing his thing, postcardy.


  9. Mrs Marvel says:

    Postcardy that is fabulous! Makes me wonder if it was recorded on a cylinder or a disc record.


  10. Karen S. says:

    What a lovely photo, and wonderful you got to borrow it! Yodeling would be really cool, and one that might even be better heard in an outdoor open air-theatre! Great post!


  11. tyrogers6200 says:

    What a wonderful photograph! How could you ever live up to a famous yodeler! I did not know it was common then to sell photos from the shows like trading cards, what an interesting fact. I always learn such interesting facts from this exercise. Thanks for sharing!


  12. Christine H. says:

    I’m also interested in vaudeville in general. I would have liked to experience that era of entertainment. It’s a great photo. On a side note, I got a joke gift for Christmas. It’s a little box with a red button in the middle and it says “Press in case of emergency”. When you press the button, it plays yodeling music. Pretty funny. Much better than the joke GPS I got last year that berates the hapless traveler.


  13. Carol says:

    A fantastic photo, with a great story and a Youtube video to boot! Love it!


  14. A wonderful photo, full of the melodrama that was popular in that era. I think it is a scene from something like the story of Heidi, Girl of the Alps as yodeling is a very Bavarian/Swiss tradition that was part of many performers repertoire. The costume is more rustic than Dutch I think. A quick search of JK Emmet brought up a Aug.16, 1896 NYTimes story of a dispute with his estranged wife over custody of two dogs and a parrot that beats anything on reality TV today.


  15. Love the photo and the stories on this one! Thanks for sharing them with us.

    Happy Sepia Saturday,

    Kathy M.


  16. William says:

    Well it’s over two years later when I came across your post. Even at that I will put in something I found while reading an article in an old Montana Magazine. The story was about Mark Twain in Montana. The author was Dale G. Harvey. When Twain was in Helena the paper there made mention that on the Monday after Twain’s performance, “the Ming Opera House presented Fritz in a Madhouse, with J. K. Emmett, “a popular comedian and endeared to men, women, and children the world over”.”
    This makes it sound as if Fritz was still alive at the time and J.K. was travelling with him. Or ir could mean that J.K. was now doing Fritz’s show. It has me stumped. Fritz in a Madhouse preceded Twain in Anaconda.


  17. William says:

    Well, it looks like further research is always a good idea. J.K. Emmet died before the Fritz in the Madhouse show came to Montana. J.K. Emmet Jr. took over his father’s commitments and continued the show. J.K. died in July of 1891 in Cornwall.


    1. Mrs Marvel says:

      That’s the beauty of the internet, tho. The info is there for those who look. Thanks for your input on this photo!


  18. Joe Emmet says:

    Hi, my name is J. K. Emmet, IV. William, I’m glad you enjoyed researching and discussing my great grandfather (J. K Emmet), and grandfather (J. K. Emmet, Jr). J. K Emmet was known fondly as Fritz, which became his moniker after his character in the first play he starred in: “Fritz, Our Cousin-German”. His son, J. K. Emmet Jr. was known as Fritz, Jr.

    Jr. was his father’s manager for a number of years, and as stated above, assumed some of his contractual obligations when great granddad suddenly became ill and died of pneumonia ten days later. Granddad knew his father’s character so well that he easily filled his shoes and proceeded to play and develop his Fritz character for another 20 or so years.

    My six siblings and I are compiling information on our family’s thespian history (our father, Joseph K. Emmet, III) was also an actor. I’ll reach out to you in the next six months or so with additional information if you are still interested in this era.

    P. S. I have a photo of Fritz (Sr.) with his young granddaughter that you might enjoy. Let me know if you’d like me to send it along.


    1. Mrs Marvel says:

      Joe, what a great pleasure to have you visit! Please use the contact form and we can talk offline. I’d love to have an update on J.K. Emmet and the family history. Plus if you would like to have this photo I’d be happy to send it to you.


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